August 21, 2010

Long Island Ends Spell Against Snake-Bitten Outlaws

by Matt DaSilva | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff | MLL Semifinals Blog

Long Island midfielder Stephen Berger eyes his next opportunity Saturday during a five-goal outburst in the Lizards' 16-12 win over the Denver Outlaws in the MLL semifinals.

© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com

ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- Everything that has come to characterize the burgeoning Major League Lacrosse rivalry between the Long Island Lizards and Denver Outlaws resurfaced in the playoffs Saturday, including several highlight-reel goals and more misconduct than a Marilyn Manson concert.

One significant exception: the outcome.

Long Island erased a three-goal deficit in the second quarter and surged to a 16-12 victory over Denver before an announced 6,319 fans at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, advancing to the championship game Sunday against the Chesapeake Bayhawks.

Midfielder Stephen Berger scored five goals and added an assist for the Lizards, who were 0-7 all-time against the Outlaws coming into the semifinals.

“I want this more than anything,” Berger said, “so I’m going all out.”

Prior to the game, the dry erase board in the Long Island locker room read “0-7.” Players crossed the seven out and put a one in the win column.

“It’s a respect battle. Revenge is a motivating factor,” said Lizards defenseman Nicky Polanco. “I’ll take 1-7 over 0-8 any day.”

The Lizards have won six straight games dating back to July 3. They used that momentum to exploit Denver’s penchant for futility in the playoffs. Since joining the MLL in 2006, the Outlaws have made playoffs every year, only to fall short each time -- including three championship game losses.

“This is, god, what, our fifth year here? And we just haven’t gotten it done,” said defenseman Lee Zink, who held Lizards big man Tim Goettelmann to one goal. Asked if Denver would be labeled as a team that can’t perform in the playoffs as a result of the loss, Zink responded, “You said it, not me.”

The Outlaws appeared to have the Lizards on the ropes in the second quarter, when goals by Brendan Mundorf, Brian Langtry and Kevin Unterstein spanning just 83 seconds gave them a 9-6 lead with 3:08 remaining.

But Long Island answered with its own scoring flurry -- three goals in the final three minutes to cap a tense second quarter and tie the game at 9 at halftime.

Skirmishes sullied both runs. One resulted in five-minute game misconducts (on top of one-minute unsportsmanlike penalties) for Denver attackman Drew Westervelt and Long Island defenseman Nicky Polanco. Another yielded unsportsmanlike conducts for Outlaws midfielder Dan Hardy and Lizards midfielder Mike Unterstein.

“It’s the heat of the game, man. Everyone gets after it,” Polanco said of his encounter with Westervelt. “It got a little physical, and somebody had some words to say. Unfortunately it’s unlike my character. It was selfish of me. I should have shut my mouth. I don’t want to let the team down, because I was off the field for six minutes… It’s something as a veteran I should know better. It is what it is. You take it on the chin. I told the offense at halftime, we owe you guys. The defense owes you. We tried to step it up for them.”

Polanco has seen the Long Island-Denver rivalry escalate in recent years.

“Pure competitiveness,” he said. “I feel like Denver has a certain swagger about them. They think that we’re the Long Island tough guys, scumbags they might say. It is what it is, man. I think we both like to compete at the highest level. It was the number one offense against the number one defense today. That’s what it’s all about.”

Said Berger: “Both teams, no one really likes us. We’re kind of like the rivals, the nasty guys. So when you put us both on the field, it’s pretty ugly sometimes.”

Said Zink: “That’s part of the fun of this league, building rivalries.”

It wasn’t much fun for Denver in the second half, as Long Island’s first half momentum spilled into the third quarter. Attackman Zack Greer scored the first of his three goals in the quarter (four total) just 53 seconds in to put the Lizards up 10-9. Greer went right, spun inside left on Denver defenseman Ken Clausen and sent a high shot searing by goalkeeper Jesse Schwartzman, who was screened.

The Outlaws responded, tying the game at 10 on midfielder Max Seibald’s shot from the right alley at 13:02 mark of the third quarter.

Long Island answered with back-to-back goals by midfielder Chris Fiore and Greer -- the latter coming off a pretty shot fake-face dodge-feed sequence by his longtime line mate Matt Danowski -- to go ahead 12-10.

Hardy briefly stopped the bleeding with a left-handed goal under pressure that made it 12-11 with 4:22 left in the third quarter.
But the Lizards blew the game open with four unanswered goals bridging the third and fourth quarters to take a 16-11 lead.

Outlaws midfielder Nate Watkins scored with 11:49 remaining for the final margin. Denver had opportunities in the last 10 minutes, but attackman Matt Brown was denied on a point-blank shot with 8:58 left and attackman Brendan Mundorf had an apparent diving goal waived due to a crease violation.

Midfielder Keith Cromwell had a goal and five assists for the Lizards, who will meet the Bayhawks for fifth time in an MLL championship game. (The Lizards won in 2001 and 2003. The Bayhawks won in 2002 and 2005.) Midfielder Stephen Peyser added two goals, while All-MLL goalkeeper Drew Adams made 13 saves.

Mundorf, Hardy and Seibald paced the Outlaws with two goals apiece in the losing effort.

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